Written by William Algar-Chuklin
There is a debate as old as the art of photography that still rages on in the trenches of every photographic community. What’s better? A Prime or Zoom lens! Today I’m going to cover the pros and cons of each, and a challenger you
may not have considered.
Honestly we’ve all pretty much had an opinion on this subject at some point in our photographic journey, but there’s a reason we debate! It’s a very personal choice deciding what lens works for us. We all have our own styles,
and workflows that can really lend yourself to either a prime or a zoom. So let’s have a quick chat about both.
Primes are wonderful lenses; simply amazing. They give you great image quality, edge to edge sharpness, contrast, and are commonly fast enough (i.e. having a wide maximum aperture) to produce the most pleasing out of focus
highlights money can buy. Also a bonus for low light photography!
They’re lovely, and light. Perfect for the travel and street photographers out there, commonly offering the best image quality at surprisingly affordable prices. I’m looking at you Sigma 45mm f/2.8 and Sigma 85mm f/1.4
If you’re into macro photography, you’ll also find the best magnification ratios in the prime lens family.
Additionally, because of their generally, much simpler design, they do amazing work at dealing with chromatic aberrations, and other types of unwanted distortions that can plague cheaper zooms.
Sounds pretty great huh? Well, unfortunately, there’s always a down side. The main one is versatility.
There will be many occasions where you’re going to want to zoom in. Simple for a zoom lens, “impossible” for a prime. Well, not always impossible, but very difficult at best and unachievable at worst.
There’s an old adage for primes users, “Zoom with your feet”. Simple in theory, but it can be challenging in practice! Though that’s not to say the challenge is a bad thing.
You’ll find that in order to overcome the limitation, you’re going to have to get closer to the subject, or crop your images. Getting closer isn’t always possible if you’re blocked by something, or you have a skittish subject,
and cropping has the downside of losing out on all that image resolution you bought that expensive camera for.
That’s where zooms come in...
The workhorses of working photographers, the 14-24mm f/2.8 , 24-70mm f/2.8
, and the 70-200mm f/2.8 represent the holy trinity of lenses for many professional photographers. These are the fastest, most versatile set of
lenses anyone can own. 3 lenses covering every focal length from 14mm to 200mm. A tough ask for any prime lens lineup.
Versatility comes at a cost though. I’ve already mentioned the superb image quality of prime lenses, the simplicity of design, which leads to a major con of zoom lenses. The best ones are large and HEAVY! Those three lenses
mentioned above have a combined weight of almost 3.5kgs. Tough for any photographer to lug around, and also very ‘in your face’ for many subjects. They also have smaller maximum apertures compared to some reasonably priced f/1.4
and f/1.8 primes. That also brings up another point. The best zooms are also very pricey, that it can be more affordable to purchase a couple of great quality primes and call it a day.
It may sound like I’m dunking on zooms, but I’m really not. I like both, but I definitely lean into the zoom camp for the versatility and the surprisingly great image quality. Good quality modern zooms produce AMAZING pictures!
I like to shoot night photography, and being able to go from an astounding 24mm that captures city skylines in a single shot, to a narrow 70mm to punch in on those faraway subjects is liberating. For me though, I see primes as
specialised lenses for when you have something specific in mind, and often the way I shoot requires a more flexible approach.
Here’s the kicker. While this whole debate was raging on, a fancy pants lens maker threw a spanner in the works!
Introducing the best of both worlds - The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8
For many years, the absolute maximum aperture achievable on a zoom lens was f/2.8. Every lens maker had their holy trinity of fast zoom lenses, and that’s the way it was for decades. That changed though with this lens. First
introduced in 2013, the 18-35mm represented the first attempt by any lens maker to try to bridge the gap between primes and zooms, and it’s a crackin’ lens!
Fast and bright, it’s actually a favourite of videographers using micro four thirds bodies with focal reducers. With great image quality and a large maximum aperture, photographers started to see the possibility of switching some
of their primes to a versatile zoom. A perfect travel companion for many and also one of my favourite lenses!
Well, that’s enough of me gushing on about lenses. It’s time to form your own opinion (if you don’t already have one!), and try out some more primes and zoom lenses. Everyone is going to be different, and the best way to find out
which camp you fall into is to try them all out!
If you need more information on Lenses, Cameras or other accessories, check out more articles on the C.R. Kennedy blog.
William Algar-Chuklin is a night and travel photographer based in Sydney, Australia. You can check out some of his work at walgarch.com and on Flickr
GUIDES FOR CAMERAS
GUIDES FOR CAMERA LENSES
GUIDES FOR PRO VIDEO
GUIDES FOR LIGHTING & STUDIO
GUIDES FOR AUDIO VISUAL
GUIDES FOR CAMERA ACCESSORIES
Get Free Shipping on all orders! No minimum spend! Items are dispatched from our Melbourne Warehouse within 24 Hours*
Shop with peace of mind knowing all items sold @ C.R.Kennedy & Co are backed by genuine manufacturers warranty.
Place a Click and Collect order online and pickup from your nearest warehouse.
C.R. Kennedy is Australia’s leading importer and distributor of photographic equipment. Our head office and main warehouse is located in Melbourne with branch offices and warehouses in Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Perth and Sydney.
© 2021 C.R. KENNEDY.
All rights reserved.
We pay the store, you take the goods the same day.
Choose how you pay - weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
Up to $1,000 interest free always or up to $1,000 with 6 months interest free.
*A $6.00 monthly account fee applies. Pay your balance by the due date (the end of next month) and we'll waive the fee. See full Ts & Cs
UP TO 80% OFF ALL STOCKOnce it's gone, it's gone.Grab yourself a bargain!
STOCK DUE The product is not currently in stock however our best estimate of the date we are due to receive more stock is indicated by the date shown. This does not guarantee all orders placed will be able to be fulfilled from the stock we are receiving on this date but is the best date we are able to provide as an estimate.All displayed dates are subject to change without notice.Also note once we receive stock it may take a number of days for this stock to be sent to our customers
ON ORDER The product is on order with a supplier but not currently in stock and we do not have a clear enough date from our supplier as to when the stock is due to arrive.In this situation we cannot therefore provide an estimated availability date to you
NO STOCK The product is not currently in stock and we do not have this on order with a supplier
If you have questions about the availability of items on our web site or if you have placed an order for products not in stock and would like further information or wish to cancel your order please Contact Us and include the product code and/or order number so we can assist you further